'Nobody puts baby kale in the corner'

Baby leaf kale in Growhampton's polytunnel

Baby leaf kale in Growhampton's polytunnel

First published in Columns Wandsworth Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Growhampton

Earlier this year I was in North America on a tour addressing farmers about soil health and sustainable farming. It was here that I first noticed how popular baby leaf kale was in green grocers. I’ll be honest and say this season is the first time I have ever grown the ‘baby leaf’ form but now I couldn’t be more excited about this easy and rewarding vegetable.

Growhampton grow varieties of differing colour and size on the University's campus including: Red Russian, Seaweed, Curly, Fizz and Scarlet. Kale is so pest and disease hardy - I’ve suffered no problems whatsoever this season. 

My top tips are:

1. Red Russian has to be the easiest and most productive by far - I’d recommend this variety if you are starting out.
2. Don’t worry too much about over-sowing and sow seed reasonably thickly in a straight line like you would other ‘cut and come again’ baby salad leaves. Straight lines make harvesting so much easier. Being a little heavy handed with the seeding rate also means the overcrowded plants grow a little leggy (normally a nuisance) but in this instance, I find it makes harvesting easier.
3. Kale is hardy and ideal to start early in the season. Just keep well watered and you can make your first cut in just 4-5 weeks.
4. Use a sharp knife or scissors and whizz along your rows cutting off the leaves about an inch above the crown (base) of the plant so the younger leaves can grow back.
5. As seed is sown quite dense, it is important to cut weekly to keep the plants small and not excessively overcrowded.

In the kitchen, baby kale makes a fantastic addition to a stir fry. I’ve been blending my kale with oriental vegetables and selling this stir fry mix at our weekly market day. Baby kale is also splendid as a salad leaf. It works fantastically well if you marinate or dress the leaves for 30 mins or so before blending the rest of your salad ingredients and serving – try it you will notice the difference!

Next week I'll be talking about recent research in organic farming and sharing a little surprise with you from the Growhampton Team. 

Joel W.
Joel Williams is the Grower for the University of Roehampton Students’ Union’s Growhampton project

Top Tip for this week: Double Cropping
Sow baby kale between rows of slower maturing crops. This season I grew baby kale in between my rows of Strawberries and Parsnips. By the time the slower crops catch up and crowd out the baby kale, I’d had a good few weeks of picking!
 

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